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Term limits don't limit freedom

August 3, 2010 - John Stack

 Back in 1994, the Clinton County electorate decided that 12 years was long enough for any county legislator to serve. Up until this year, the 12 year limitation hadn’t actually caused anyone to leave office. But now, there are two legislatures who could be term limited this fall. The editors at the Press Republican have again written an editorial saying how term limits are a bad thing. I beg to differ. First, the P-Rs points.

                The P-R says that with term limits, young people, or people who aren’t financially well off will not run for an office, knowing they can only expect to be in office for 12 years. I still can’t figure this one out. Locally, most legislators, supervisors, town board and village officials are not wealthy. Most hold other full time jobs. Most are not paid well. For many, it is surely a public service. But, if any politician ran on a line of ‘I will only run if I am guaranteed more than 12 consecutive years in office’, I think only their very ardent supporters would vote for them.  I think it is the rare politician who gets into office with a 15 year plan. Plus, we want results now! Not 15 years from now.

                Secondly, the P-R wrongly claims that the legislature is the only place then where tenure and knowledge mean nothing (with term limits in place). I say the opposite is currently true. At higher levels, such as the NYS and federal levels, tenure trumps knowledge. The senators/assembly persons/ congressmen get their plum assignments thru time in, not through any good they have ever done. In fact, it is party loyalty, not responsiveness to the voters which gets them their positions. A good case in point is the Sen Stafford versus Sen Little. Our area was overcompensated having long time serving Ron Stafford who took home the bacon like no one else. Why? First it was that he was in the senate for almost FOUR decades, finally making it to the powerful Finance committee. Plus, he was a Republican, when the Republicans were in power in the Senate. Now, Betty Little holds his position. She brought in the least ‘member items’ of any senator last year. Is she dumber than the rest? No. Do the voters of New York think she doesn’t deserve more power or influence? No. Its because she only has 5 years in, and is in the minority party. If and when the GOP wins back the Senate, she still won’t have anything close to Stafford’s power unless she stays in another 20 years. Understandably people make more money staying in a job for a long time (raises, etc) but ‘time in service’ should not be the major factor in promotions – as it is at the state and federal level.

                But the most naïve point is in quoting Senator Stafford (as well as echoed by multitudes of other talking heads) that being ‘there is a term limit in place – its called the ballot box’. This surely is a quaint idea. Sheldon Silver runs the Assemby. He was originally elected when I was 7 years old – that was 7 presidents ago. He has an iron grip on the majority leadership position. For him, his 36 years in sure help him. But mostly, it’s the groups he has cultivated to guarantee his re-election. What democrat is going to challenge him to a primary in his district? The powers that be have decided he will be the candidate. As the democratic candidate, he will win his district, and will continue to control the Assembly. Are there other candidates that could do a good job? Sure. Would upstate be better served if Shelly Silver was term limited? Probably. Is NYS as a whole benefitting with a Manhattan democrat controlling everything in and out of the Assembly – until the day he dies or retires? No, we are not.

                This has also been seen in the Democrat Gillibrand. The higher ups in the Democrats have determined she shouldn’t have a primary challenger. As a Gillibrand supporter, I want her to win. And I accept this. The main reason for this is to make sure Gillibrand continues to gain service in the senate and therefore more power, her being a very young senator with a possible long run in office. There were potential candidates who could have knocked her off in a primary, like Carolyn Maloney. But, in the general election Gillibrand is a much better bet of grabbing independents and Republicans who care more about gun rights and such than her stands on abortion and sexual orientation. Any politician who says they relished having a primary all ready knows they are going to crush their opponent. Its just self preservation.

                The days when Abe Lincoln sat at his front porch and had the press come to him is over. There no longer is Jimmy Stewart going to Washington as Mr Smith. The days where the politician chose themself to run, and the people voted for them because they were the best candidate is over. Now, even to run in a local election, you usually need some party support. And maybe some money. Move it up the food chain, and you only get on a ticket if you play to the party, and not to the people. As Lord Acton, expressed this opinion in a letter to Bishop Mandell Creighton in 1887:"Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men."

                I claim contrary to the headline ‘term limits limit freedom’ that no term limits are a limit of our freedom.



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